POLITICS
02/01/2018 20:45 EST | Updated 02/02/2018 13:03 EST

Canadians Had Strong Feelings About ‘O Canada’ Lyric Changes, Letters To Trudeau Show

There were plenty of suggestions on how to improve the tune.

Steve Russell via Getty Images
The 2017 Hall of Fame class during the national anthem during the Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Classic at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Nov. 12, 2017.

OTTAWA — Altering the lyrics to "O Canada" struck a chord with hundreds of Canadians last year who wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with their suggestions for lyrical changes.

Letters released to HuffPost Canada under the Access to Information Act show that the discussion over updating the national anthem — spurred by the late Grit MP Mauril Bélanger's private member's bill, C-210, to have it use gender-neutral language — spilled outside Parliament.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Mauril Belanger speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 7, 2015.

One resident from Ontario wrote to the prime minister saying a good way to mark Canada's 150th anniversary would be to adopt an official bilingual version of the anthem.

"The present custom of singing a bilingual version of the anthem only when the numbers of French-speaking Canadians warrant it, seems patronizing at best," said the resident whose name was withheld because of privacy rules.

Adopting a bilingual version of the anthem as the only one sung across Canada and abroad would be "unique and reflect" how the country's two founding nations getting along is a shining example to the outside world, they said. They went on to suggest revising the opening line to sing: "O Canada Our Home, First Nations' land. True patriot love in everyone command."

Reconciliation

Fixing the national anthem to address reconciliation with Indigenous peoples figured strongly in the letters Trudeau received.

One person, who described living in the paradise of British Columbia, said the change could be as simple as adding the word "on."

"The first two lines would read, "O Canada! Our home on native land... "On native land" connotes a partnership, a joint vision of the past, present and future.

"...I know one simple word cannot erase the trauma that the native peoples of Canada have endured, I only wish to have a long standing fact acknowledged. If the whole country were to sing this truth, I would like to think it could shift Canadians' hearts, and souls" they added.

For far too long, the national anthem remained "sexist" by excluding Canadian women, a Manitoba resident wrote. "Some of our Canadian ladies have contributed much in war and peace and therefore they should not be disregarded," the person said, supporting the Liberal government's desire to replace "in all thy sons command" with "in all of us command."

...I know one simple word cannot erase the trauma that the native peoples of Canada have endured, I only wish to have a long standing fact acknowledged.British Columbian

Another Ontario resident, who described themselves as a "carded Liberal supporter," suggested the lyrics should be changed to "in all thy peoples command."

Still another Ontario resident suggested "with all our hearts command."

That suggestion was made a few times, with another letter writer noting:

"a) it is gender neutral

b) it rhymes well

c) it prepares us for the next line ... "with glowing hearts"

In a handwritten note, a senior wrote Trudeau telling him that "as a young girl in school when singing the National Anthem, I always wondered why sons were more important than daughters.

"As the years passed, I'm now 72 yrs, it still makes me feel that somehow women are not valued as much as men."

...as a young girl in school when singing the National Anthem, I always wondered why sons were more important than daughters.Letter from a senior

She wrote that she'd starting replacing thy "sons" with the word of "us" when she sang. "Since I don't have a very strong voice, no one seems to object. They probably don't hear me," she noted, as she pledged to carrying on doing what she had been doing for years.

One resident of Ontario noted that it isn't only women who are excluded from the national anthem, but immigrants as well.

"The opening wording leaves much to be desired, since it virtually excludes a large portion of the population.... it begins with "O Canada. Our home and Native land." I have difficulty relating to this, since I am an immigrant and I was born and educated in [censored] hence it is my native land.... Many immigrants have the same problem, and singing the current lyrics poses a conflict...

"This could be rectified by substituting 'O Canada. Our home and cherished land.' Simple, no?"

Still another resident — and she wasn't the only person to make this proposal — suggested avoiding all the above problems by switching the first verse of the national anthem with the second verse from the original Robert Stanley Weir version:

O Canada! Where pines and maples grow,

Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow,

How dear to us thy broad domain,

From East to Western Sea;

Thou land of hope for all who toil!

Thou True North, strong and free!

O Canada! O Canada!

O Canada! We stand on guard for thee.

O Canada! We stand on guard for thee.

"I learned this many years ago in school. It is more description and meaningful," the British Columbia resident wrote.

Some letters opposed changes

Of course, not everyone was supportive of the changing the anthem to gender-neutral language. Another B.C. resident told the prime minister that they were opposed to the move and planned to keep using the old lyrics. "I will not change," they wrote in a handwritten note.

"It is wrong when a country treads on its country and heritage. In all thy sons command is military, and taking that out shows no respect for those that died for us," said the resident whose grandfather and five uncles had perished during the two world wars.

An Ontarian writing to Trudeau to express support for the current first-past-the-post voting system and his opposition to legalizing marijuana, was more direct: "I heard somebody is trying to change the words to 'Oh Canada.' Put the squelch to them."

In all thy sons command is military, and taking that out shows no respect for those that died for us.B.C. resident

Another Ontario resident begged in a letter: "Please leave our national anthem as is." The letter included a newspaper clipping with the headline: "Political correctness at the expense of history."

Still another resident of B.C. suggested that it wasn't up to one individual to try to change the words of the anthem to make them "politically correct."

"In all thy sons command" is out of respect to the world war heroes.... Now Mr. Belanger and those that support this change have disrespected these men and women who fought and died for our freedom.

"... If the anthem is so 'symbolically important to Canadians, why don't we get a say?" they asked, requesting a referendum.

The national anthem change will soon be law. Liberal and independent senators passed the bill on Wednesday over the concerns of their Tory colleagues who had been filibustering it for months. The bill is now awaiting royal assent.